In the Fair Funding Formula, Some Communities Will Be Treated More Fairly Than Others

And the frontrunner for this year’s Emperor’s New Clothes Award for Stating the Obvious is Richmond Town Councilor Henry R. Oppenheimer, for his recent comments on the General Assembly’s latest version of an educational “funding formula”.
Andrew Martin of the Chariho Times reports on the effect the proposed “funding formula” would have on Chariho District…

The bill, S2650, also named the “Fair Share Education Funding Formula,” focuses on sending more money to the urban schools in the state. As a result, less funding would go toward the rural and suburban schools. Also, it would aggregate the three towns in the Chariho Regional School District – Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton – and the aid would be dispersed equally.
Basically, the bill would eliminate the regional bonus for regional school districts. For Chariho, it would equate to a loss of $12 million. The district gets $14.8 million now, but under this bill, it would only receive $2 million. According to [Richmond Councilor Oppenheimer], there would be total loss in Washington County of $37 million.
Here is Councilman Oppenheimer’s award-deserving response, where he rightly questions the General Assembly’s comprehension of the concept of “fair”…
“I guess [the bill] is fair in the eyes of the beholder, but in my eyes it wasn’t very fair,” he said in reference to the bill’s title.
“It says that it cannot be disputed that this new system would enhance fairness and equality. If I lived in Providence where [state aid] goes up, I might believe that. But not one Washington County town would get an increase,” Oppenheimer said.
Martin also reports that the Richmond and Hopkinton Town Councils are officially notifying their statehouse delegations that they want to be notified anytime an education “funding formula” bill is introduced in the legislature…
The councilor then asked to have a strongly-worded letter written to the town’s legislators opposing the bill and any other legislation of its kind in the future. Also, Oppenheimer said he wants the town to be notified any time a bill like this goes before the General Assembly.
Hopkinton council President Vincenzo Cordone asked to have a similar letter written at the Monday, May 19 town meeting.
Apparently, the town councils believe their state reps need assistance in determining if education bills submitted to the legislature are really in their communities’ best interests. City and town councils in other Rhode Island communities would be wise to offer their legislators the same help too.

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chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Lemme see if I got this right.
Providence has about 14% of the population (1.2M/170K) and is angling for 35% of the money ($240M/$690M). Is that right?
Sounds fair to me.
Not.

Greg
Greg
12 years ago

Simple. Determine what a kid costs to educate. Multiply that by the number of students in a district. That’s what you get.
Now figure out how to de-couple it from the property tax you myopic morons in the GA.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

It is not really correct to present this as an “urban vs. suburban” issue. As someone on RIFuture has pointed out, it’s more of a North-South issue. While it is true that most urban areas benefit under the proposed plan, Newport does not. Also, many suburban and rural districts benefit (Barrington, Coventry, Cranston, Cumberland, Foster-Glocester, Lincoln, N. Smithfield, W. Warwick). Add to those the urbans, (Pawtucket, Providence, Woonsocket, E. Providence) and you’ll see that a majority of students (and citizens) come off better. But the district vs. district debate is wrong and divisive. Districts who lose under the current system say “we want more”. Districts who do well say, “I got mine, Jack so buzz off”. The real way to make progress is to think about what is fair, and turn it into a formula. I think the proposed formula accomplishes this, but I’d be glad to hear a reasoned argument for an alternative formula. The idea that we should just continue as we have is not acceptable. When PA acts this year, RI will be the ONLY state in the Union without a funding formula. That’s another last-position ranking that I hope AR folks will want to remove. ChuckR- it’s not just the total population that matters, but the number of students, which can be quire different. Secondly, it’s not just the number of students that matters to cost, but also the different costs for different kinds of students. Students who need free lunch, or extra English-language work, cost more. Finally, the formula considers not only cost-per-student, but also the property tax base and property tax effort required to raise the same amount of money. Apart from the importance of taking variable costs-per-student, Greg is exactly right. We should go as far as possible to uncouple education funding from… Read more »

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Hi Thomas
Let’s ask it another way. Why does Providence need the state to pay approximately $7000 per student and yet many districts will get $0 per student? Free lunches can be furnished for $1000 per year or less. Where’s the rest?
Here’s a solution for ESL – sidetrack them for a year of intensive English and then move them back into standard classrooms. The so-called tax effort argument is just window dressing to cover up a money grab that has no elements of fairness in it. By all rights, cities should have natural economic advantages and economies of scale. It has taken several decades to squander those advantages. Now, at the end of their fiscal rope, our cities want us to kick in more so they can postpone addressing their underlying problems for a while longer.
Oh, and I’m sure the tax effort fairness calculation will include extra expenses incurred by us rural dwellers. My effective ‘tax rate’ to get water from a well system and get rid of it with an ISDS increase my total actual tax by close to 40%. Actually, I’m almost certain it won’t include this because it’s a money grab and fairness has no part in it.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

ChuckR,
It’s not just lunches, of course. It’s ESL and special ed, which is correlated with poverty. But that’s just looking at the cost side. Some communities can raise $xK for education with minimal property tax effort; others must have much higher rates and expend more effort to raise less. The formula requires each community to make the same effort, then fills in the differences with state money. That’s where “the rest” is.
Your ESL solution is interesting, but would require another year of schooling that would have to be paid for.
I don’t understand your “economies of scale” point. Urban districts around the country have suffered from having to maintain much higher property tax rates than suburbs to achieve the same results. And again, in RI, there are a number of suburban and rural districts that are getting less now than the formula says they should.
I’m sure it looks like a money-grab to some, but you haven’t explained why a funding formula is unfair, which I think would also require explaining why 49 states have decided that similar formulas ARE fair. I’d be interested in a principled argument for a different kind of formula, or no formula at all, but I haven’t seen it yet. Just because some communities don’t want to lose benefits they gained from an older, less fair system, is not an argument for keeping it.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

>>but I’d be glad to hear a reasoned argument for an alternative formula.
A flat, per capita amount per child, provided to the parent(s) in the form of a voucher, redeemable at any school, “public” or “private” (in reality all schools are “public” – the terminology should be “government” or “private”).
Private schools would spring up to meet the demand, and the kids in Providence could get a superior private education for half (or less) of what we’re now paying into the government system. And the kids, freed from the clutches of the teachers unions and education bureaucrats would, for the first time, have a real chance for success in life – the ultimate “civil right.”

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

>> But the district vs. district debate is wrong and divisive. It is what it is. Each district is pitted against all the other districts, each vying for a bigger piece of the funding pie. There will be winners and losers as even you’ve stated. Grow up. >> The idea that we should just continue as we have is not acceptable. Why not? Can you correlate the lack of a school funding formula with student performance? If so I’d like to see that data. Get rid of the teacher unions if you care about the kids and their education. This is a tax policy issue. You are crazy if you think this is going to improve education in the urban schools. This policy will not replace their parents and it is they who are the main determinants of their children’s educational success or failure. This is nothing but another grand transfer of wealth. Let’s subsidize communities by awarding them big education $ for having a low median family income. What a great idea, let’s use the children to punish the higher achievers in society. Maybe we could weight the cost per student an extra .50 if they get a free lunch (I’d like to see someone justify THAT ONE – how much can lunch possible cost – certainly not $6,500!). Let’s weight the student an extra .25 if they are entitled to reduced free lunch. And let’s throw in an extra .20 for anyone needing language instruction. Don’t forget the special ed kids and the inconsistent policies and incentives that exist for qualifying them as such. And then lets combine the adjusted ratio benefit for low income communities with the multiplier for the free lunches, language, special ed etc. What do you get? Exponential unfairness! Each district across the state… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank,
There will be winners and losers as even you’ve stated. Grow up.
“Grow up”? I’m not sensing a productive conversation looming. For what it’s worth, though, I was taught, and still believe, that the ability to reason about fairness in a way that goes beyond one’s immediate self-interest was a mark of maturity, not immaturity.
Thomas if you lived in one of the communities on the losing end of this legislation you would never be arguing that this absurd formula is fair
You don’t know me at all, so I think you have no basis for saying this. Moreover, I have not always lived in Providence, and I don’t know that I always will.

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Hear, hear, Tom W. Nothing could be more fair than a direct association of dollars with student and the freedom for those students’ parents to choose which school merits the expense. We could even add dollars to children who’ll need extras.

Mike
Mike
12 years ago

The real “funding formula” would be replacing the Soviet-style “public” schools with vouchers which would rise every year with a COLA-and not a dime more. Home schooling will be encouraged.
Oh, and we “have to” give vouchers to little Juan and Pablo? Great-just make sure Mommy comes down to register them.
Bring a toothbrush-LOL.

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

“I don’t understand your “economies of scale” point.” Economies of scale are when, through merger, two organizations become one and eliminate duplicative positions to become more efficient and lower costs. This is trotted out from time to time in proposals to consolidate our three dozen plus school districts into five. This fair tax effort plan, coupled with the poor performance of many larger districts, ie, Providence, is why that sort of proposal is rejected by many. Parents will pay a premium for local control, even if the control is illusory vis a vis the unions. Other economies of scale occur, or should occur, in municipal services (water, sewerage, fire and police coverage, garbage hauling) but sometimes do not. An example of services economies of scale is in the Bay Commission fees. A typical residential customer using approximately 200 gallons per day of water will pay $400 per year (source:PUC docket 3905). Similarly, the Providence Water Supply cites a typical annual bill of $225 per year. Compare that to my costs of an ISDS. Its a $20-25K capital investment and a typical corresponding mortgage payment is roughly $2200 per year. Now this payment is to a bank, not a government entity, but given that it finances a service that is elsewhere a government service, don’t you think it would be fair to include it in calculations of tax effort? Similar arguments can be made for water supply (in my case $4k for a deep well and $2K for a filtration system, mortgage expense $530 per year), garbage hauling (in my case $300 per year). Maintenance and inspection fees of these systems add another $300 per year. So on one hand, water and sewerage costs a typical Providence resident $625 per year, while the same service costs me $3330 per year. I… Read more »

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Thomas, What you’re calling fairness is the continuation of a flawed public education system that will now include a funding formula that officially gives a tax break to the more financially challenged/mismanaged communities. This comes at the expense of a majority of households around the state who would now have to pay even higher property taxes than they do now to fund more of your districts education. Unlike you I am very concerned – for the majority of residents in this state, those that will come out on the losing end of this ill conceived funding plan and will have a much more difficult time making ends meet thanks to it. I reside in one of the communities that stands to benefit from this proposal yet I still don’t think it’s right, because it’s not. You on the other have the undeniable appearance of selfish interest in advocating a program which will benefit your city more than any other, and at the expense of all the others. Since you seem familiar with this funding formula and are especially fond of it maybe you can explain a couple of items: Why do students who qualify for free lunch entitle the district they are in to receive funding for an extra .50 students in this formula? That translates to about $6,500 per year per student, or $36 per lunch. Yet a school lunch costs $1.90. Where is all the extra money going? And the lunch program is partially federally funded, though I don’t know the exact breakdown. Why will ALL special ed kids be funded as 1.50 students? Special ed needs run the gamut from minimal intervention on up with the varying costs reflected by their needs. Why isn’t the special ed allocation more sensitive so that it comes closer to reflecting… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Hi ChuckR, I think I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean I don’t understand what economies of scale are, I meant I didn’t see how they play a significant role here. There are, doubtless, some such economies. For instance, Providence pays one Superintendent for 24K kids, while the average district is just over 4K students. There are probably other examples for district-wide positions and services. But the vast majority of the costs are for teachers, where I doubt such economies are available because teachers-per-student can’t vary that much. Prov. has a max. class size of 26, mandated by the contract, less for special ed. I’m going to guess (but would be happy for a correction) that class sizes around the state are not higher, and I don’t know anybody who thinks that they should be pushed higher than 26 for efficiency’s sake. Thus, I also can’t say that most of those economies have not been achieved already. Providence’s per-pupil costs are already right at the average for the state, despite much higher percentages for kids whose education costs more. Independent outside reviewers recently stated that Providences schools were efficiently run. If you have evidence to the contrary, I’d be happy to see it. I can’t accept that the fact that I made a choice to live in Providence means that I have to live with legislatively-mandated state funding policies if those policies are unfair. I also deny that my support for the funding formula is motivated by my place of residence. Feel free to doubt that if you like, but until you get to know me I hope you’ll refrain from asserting the contrary as Frank did. I’ll also say again that this is not just about Providence or even just urban schools. A majority of the state population would benefit… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank says: “You on the other have the undeniable appearance of selfish interest in advocating a program which will benefit your city more than any other, and at the expense of all the others.”
Frank,
I would like to have a substantive discussion, but find it difficult when you keep calling my motives into question. What argument could I make that you would not attribute to a bad-faith desire to gain for my community at another’s expense? It does not seem worthwhile to me.
Let me ask this. You say YOUR position on the formula is not dictated by the relative benefit your district will receive, but is based on your assessment of fairness. Yet you assume the opposite of me. Unless you’re asserting that you’re a morally superior being (which would be foolish since you don’t know me) why should this be so?
If your’e interested in discussing the issue rather than my motives, I’m ready.
PS. I believe you are incorrect that a majority of RI residents would do worse under the formula. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Okay Thomas let’s move past motives. I will not question them.
I have already thrown out a couple of items worthy of discussion. Tom W., as usual, has made an excellent suggestion which you haven’t responded to.
Here’s another try. You keep stating that most Rhode Islanders will benefit under this plan. I honestly have no idea what you mean when you make this claim. The fact is that most RI households do not have a child in the public school system, only about 25% of them do. So even if this were education reform, which it is not, most Rhode Islanders would see no benefit. Also most will surely see their property taxes rise by the maximum allowed with this formula in place, even those in communities that are treated favorably by the new formula. So what exactly are you getting at with this comment?
Let’s get the discussion started!

Andrew
12 years ago

1. The major problem, a recurring one for modern liberalism, is that funding formula advocates define “fair” against a background of a static world that never changes and never evolves in the absence of government intervention. Imagine parents living in community with high-cost government but low performing schools. The make a decision that they want something better for their child. They research which communities have better school systems. They work extra hours and save the money they need to eventually to move to a new place. For their careful saving, hard work and planning ahead, the government now tells them that their child is only worth 0.8 of what he or she would have been had they just stayed where they were and not worked to improve their economic situation, and that they will now be double taxed, once to pay for their current school system, and once to pay for the community they decided to leave. And then the government calls this self-evidently “fair”. But it’s only “fair” in the sense that it puts government into the role of enforcing equality-of-result, retarding any family’s ability to assess their own situation and try to get ahead. 2. Opponents of the “funding formula” are frequently admonished for “pitting one community against another”. Then, contradictorily, they are told that children in some communities will have to suffer, so others may improve, as if that’s not the actual reasoning doin’ the pittin’. But if education is so terrible in this state now that lifeboat-ethics decision-making is necessary, then – and I’m not advocating this, just pointing out the inconsistency – why shouldn’t it also be being practiced within communities? If it is acceptable to shift resources inter-community, why shouldn’t a multi-school district also shift is resources intra-community, if that could improve the situation… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank, I have not responded to TomW’s comment because the original post and my response were about the funding formula, and he wrote about vouchers. Not that it’s not an important issue, but I simply don’t have the time or the inclination at this point, so I’ll stick to the formula issue. Regarding the “benefit to the majority” issue, perhaps I was imprecise. If you believe that only people with children in the public schools benefit from public education funding, then it’s possible that NO public education funding will benefit a majority of citizens (though I’d like to know where that 25% figure comes from). However, the more state funding there is available to reach a certain spending level, the less reliance needs to be placed on property taxes, so I think increased state aid for a district benefits all the property tax-payers in that district (and vice-versa). To answer your question, then, what I should have said was that the funding formula improves the position of a majority of the state’s public school children because it improves the situation of districts which contain a majority of the state’s population. One way to see that is to note that 41 of 75 members of the House of Representatives represent districts that will gain state funds. For those districts, which again contain a majority of the state’s citizens, increased state funding will take pressure off of property taxes. Property tax rises are being driven by a lot of factors independent of education these days, including both increased fuel costs and state cuts to cities and towns generally, so I won’t say that anyone’s property taxes are going down anytime soon. Again, I’d rather see RI move its ed. funding off of property taxes generally. If we didn’t rely on them for… Read more »

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Valid points Andrew. I’m just not getting past the fact that this isn’t education reform at all. It’s a wealth redistribution program. The sole purpose of this is to give financial assistance to cities and towns that have mismanaged themselves into a fiscal abyss (as Providence has) by bleeding resources from the rest of the state. We’ve been throwing more money at education for 30 years now with no improvement. So now we throw even more money at the urban schools and a few other communities by taking funds away from the rest and what do we expect will happen as a result? We still haven’t reformed education at all. The teacher union still has the entire system within it’s clutches. The union’s sole accomplishment is a well paid and well pensioned teaching profession. All this formula does is place a greater tax burden on all the communities who have the misfortune of being in better fiscal shape than the others. Here’s a prediction. If this funding formula ever does pass, in the absence of any true education reform, there will be an undetectable change in student outcomes in this state. The only result of this education funding formula will be that we will be paying a lot more on education in the future than we are now. And we already have that. Thomas. RI has 405,000 households, 150,000 public school children. I speculated that there may 1.5 children per household in the school system, a figure I felt was safe but cannot support in any way. I would welcome any info that demonstrates the true figure. Anyway that’s 25%. Most households clearly don’t have children in the public school system. >> To answer your question, then, what I should have said was that the funding formula improves the position… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Andrew, 1) I’ll pass by your meta-comments on “modern liberalism” because I think that discussions of “how liberals/conservatives think” are unproductive and unrewarding (except for certain politicians, talk-show hosts and ideologues). I’d rather stick to the issue at hand. While I’m a big fan of hard work and self-improvement, I’m afraid I can’t drum up much sympathy for the hypothetical “hard-working parents” in your morality tale. Their dreams of escaping to “low tax suburb” were frustrated because RI finally figured out it should no longer be the only state in the nation without a fair and predictable funding formula (don’t underestimate the harm that the unpredictability of the current system does to EVERY district) , and “low tax suburb” was only such because of an unfair allocation of state funds. They may be deserving of sympathy for their miscalculation, but they don’t deserve the advantage they sought. I am sure you disagree, but the point is that it all turns on your ability to justify the current funding situation as fair, or at least more fair than the prposed formula alternative. I look forward to your efforts. The current order is not “natural”, and it’s not obviously just. It’s the product of years of political wrangling. A principled approach that creates a predictable and rational allocation should replace it. 2. Opponents of the “funding formula” are frequently admonished for “pitting one community against another”. Then, contradictorily, they are told that children in some communities will have to suffer, so others may improve, as if that’s not the actual reasoning doin’ the pittin’. In a word, I think not. I wonder if you know how the formula works? I confess I’m unclear about a few details, but the outlines seem clear. Some districts will get less state aid than they did,… Read more »

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Thomas,
Let’s stick with some facts please. The highest property tax burdens in RI are in the suburban/rural ring. Check out the RIPEC studies.
If a low/middle income family in, say, Richmond, sees a meteoric rise in their property taxes due to this funding formula, do the children in that family suffer? Just wondering.

Andrew
12 years ago

1. The state of Rhode Island collected about $3 billion in general-revenue-minus-gambling last year. As a first approximation, let’s apportion it per-capita, which given the progressive nature of the income tax, will understate the contribution of the ‘burbs. E. Greenwich (1.3% of the population, $2.2 million in state aid) received about 6 cents in education-aid back for every dollar paid in taxes. Providence (16.5% of the population, $189 million in state aid) received about 38 cents in education aid for every dollar paid in taxes. How exactly, without invoking any redistributive or the-state-owns-everything ideologies that you claim play no role in your thinking, does this represent an “unfair allocation of state funds”? 2. A more telling example may be to compare Providence to the Kingstown duo. Providence, North Kingstown and South Kingstown all spend roughly the same amount on salaries per education dept. employee, and on education dept. salaries per town population. “Funding formula” advocates look at this data and immediately conclude that the difference in educational performance between the communities can only be explained by Providence having more students that are “harder to educate”. Providence needs more money because it’s a city, and cities need more money. So everybody from everywhere pay up and shut up. But if you look at the spending numbers in more detail, something else leaps out. Providence spends big on two categories that aren’t really relevant to “harder to educate” students, substitute teachers and instructional support (defined as “curriculum development, professional development, and sabbaticals”). Providence spends about $1,200 per-pupil on these two categories combined, North Kingstown only $470, and South Kingstown about $310. Tell State Senators Hanna Gallo and Rhoda Perry that they could take $800 per-pupil away from South Kingstown’s budget and give it to Providence, and their answer is “gimme gimme gimme”.… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank says: …this isn’t education reform at all. It’s a wealth redistribution program. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Secondly, ALL uses of tax money (whether state or local) to fund education, public or private, are “wealth redistribution” programs. That includes TomW’s voucher system. Unless you reject all such “redistribution” (in which case, I think we don’t have anything to talk about) the question becomes whether a particular system is good or bad. That involves balancing a number of different (and contested) principles such as fairness, equality, justice, need, and capacity with policy goals, such as creating a well-educated workforce that will attract business and keep people off public assistance. The sole purpose of this is to give financial assistance to cities and towns that have mismanaged themselves into a fiscal abyss (as Providence has) by bleeding resources from the rest of the state. The cities and towns that benefit are a mix. There are eight school districts (and more towns since some districts include more than one town) that do better under the formula. Again, these contain a majority of the state’s population. Are you claiming that they are all mismanaged? Are you claiming that the others are well-managed? If so, could you please provide evidence? Regarding Providence specifically it has a per-pupil cost that’s right at state average, despite disproportionate numbers of students with special needs. Its teacher salaries are 2.5% higher than the state average, but many of its administrative costs are lower. Can you define what an “improved position of a school child” is and what an “improved situation of a school district” is? Again I’m just not sure what you are referring to here. Thanks. I appear to have been somewhat careless on this point. I’d say a child’s position improves if his/her district spends… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank says, Let’s stick with some facts please.
Sure. I love facts. I try to let them lead me, rather than vice versa.
The highest property tax burdens in RI are in the suburban/rural ring. Check out the RIPEC studies.
The formula does not ask whether a district is urban or rural, and suburban and rural communities are among the beneficiaries of the formula.
I did as you suggested and looked at the most recent RIPEC report. I looked at the rank, in terms of effective property taxes, of those communities that do better under the formula. Providence is #1, Cranston #2, W. Warwick #3, and E. Providence #4. The median rank for all of them is #9. It would be helpful and interesting to cut out the portion of property tax that goes to schools, so as not to conflate other town services, but I don’t have that data.

As I said above, I would have to say that they suffer in the sense than they are worse-off than they were. But that tells us nothing about whether the previous level of state aid was one that can be justified as fair.

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Thomas, pull your head out of the sand. You are looking at effective tax rates! You need to scroll down a little further and look at the tax burdens. Every time the Journal does a story on property taxes it’s the tax burden they discuss, not even mentioning the effective rate. You have to take account for the valuation of the properties.
According to RIPEC the Tax Burdens are: #1 Coventry, #2 East Greenwich, #3 Cranston, #4 Hopkington, #5 Glocestor … Providence #17.
I have 4 bed/2bath 2500 sq. ft. colonial in Coventry. My property taxes will be about $8,100 next year. I just searched RI Living for every Providence colonial for sale between 2500 and 3000 sq. ft., with anything close to 4 bed/2 baths. The current property taxes claimed by the handful I found range between $2300 and $3000.
Facts indeed my friend.

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Frank
If you have a well and/or a septic system, you should add the cost of these (as determined by the mortgage portion paid on their capital cost) to your property tax. Compare that to the Providence houses you found with the typical Water Supply Board and Narragansett Bay Commission annual fees added in to the Providence taxes. The average for these is $625. Add in any garbage hauling fees you have in Coventry too. This would give a truer picture of the tax burden in Providence and for you individually, even though you are paying your ‘services’ fee to a bank instead of a municipality. If we are talking fair, and of course no politician is, this should go into your tax burden. For most of us with septic systems, its a surprisingly large number.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Andrew says, How exactly, without invoking any redistributive or the-state-owns-everything ideologies that you claim play no role in your thinking, does this represent an “unfair allocation of state funds”? I made no such claim about my ideology. I simply said that I don’t think that having the meta-discussion about ideology, rather than discussing the issue at hand, is likely to be helpful. I am happy to say that a) no, I don’t think “the state owns everything” and b) I support redistributive tax policies, within limits, in a variety of cases. I would have thought that was already obvious. I support such policies especially in education, because I think a commitment to equality of opportunity (not of result) requires it. (NB I do understand that some folks, and possibly some folks on AR, think that support for progressive income taxation is equivalent to communism. I have no more interest in debating that than I have in talking to the real communists.) 2. So everybody from everywhere pay up and shut up. Please, Andrew. I have never said this or anything close to it. You have your chance to convince your fellow citizens and the legislature to vote against this. If your side succeeds (as it has for a number of years) or if it doesn’t, well, that’s democracy. I think it’s all about using facts and principles to mount arguments, which I take it is what each of us is doing here. But if you look at the spending numbers in more detail, something else leaps out. Providence spends big on two categories that aren’t really relevant to “harder to educate” students, substitute teachers and instructional support (defined as “curriculum development, professional development, and sabbaticals”). Providence spends about $1,200 per-pupil on these two categories combined, North Kingstown only $470, and… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Oops! Didn’t proofread carefully. Gallo (Cranston) is in the Senate and Savage (E. Prov.) is in the House

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

You’re right Chuck. And I do have a well and septic and I also have to pay $300+ a year for trash pick up. But hey if we are looking for fairness we’ll just have to look elsewhere right?

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Thomas,
If Providence spends the state average in per pupil spending, as you say, then why does this education funding formula mandate that Providence receive $3,000 to $4,000 more than the rest of the state in per student $? (I am assuming that this funding formula not only maintains but enhances the current unequal distribution of community monies, or education aid, back from the state – I am sure you will try and correct me if I’m wrong).
Don’t you realize that the only way that this would be a fair education funding formula is if Providence’s per pupil costs were the highest in the state, and by at least a few thousand dollars? Then and only then would you be able to make an argument for education funding fairness.
Let’s call this legislation what it really is, an official property tax break for the city of Providence, nothing more. The unfair allocation of education aid is one of the main reasons that the tax burdens are as high as they are in the suburbs, where property taxes are the highest in the state.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank and Chuck,
I strongly recommend that you write to the sponsors of the bill, urging that some consideration be made in the formula for communities that have septic systems rather than sewers or have additional costs such as per/pound trash costs. Document the additional burden that you suffer and ask that it be included as part of the formula.Sign up to testify at hearings.
I believe that your concerns are legitimate. I will be happy to write a letter in support of your proposal or even testify personally. My address is easy to find, so please let me know what I can do to help.
-Thomas

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank says, Let’s call this legislation what it really is, an official property tax break for the city of Providence, nothing more.
Frank,
I was in the process of preparing a full response to your earlier post about effective property tax rates vs. tax burdens, etc. Then I saw your comment, which I quote above. What you say makes it absolutely clear that you either have no interest in understanding what the formula seeks to do and actually does or, if you do understand it, you are actively attempting to distort what it does.
For the last time, Providence is only one of the communities that benefits from the proposed formula. There are another of others and, in toto, they include a majority of the population of the state. Your repeated attempts to twist it into something else, in the face of clear evidence that contradicts what you say, suggests to me that the conversation is not worth continuing.

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Thomas The reason its easy to focus on Providence is because the city will get the greatest amount of money from the rest of us. You have pointed out that Providence’s per pupil spending isn’t out of line. True enough, but around 45% of it already comes from the rest of the state’s taxpayers. (That’s as of a few years ago.) IIRC, Providence has around 14% of the state population and its 25000 students represent around 15% of its population. This is not a unusually young population (RI averages 22% population under the age of 18 per US census stats) and Providence is not educating a disproportionate percentage of children. The whole tax effort argument means you need to look at all of Providence’s budget, not just the school budget. Providence comes to us like a shambling alcoholic – and all we offer is an assured supply of Sneaky Pete. Like the state, the city needs a twelve step program and many of the steps have been discussed at this blog. Here are a few: 1) The work week is 40 hours, not 35. Average savings, assuming 100% OH rate, is (40-35)/35/2 or 7%. 2) All contracts being renegotiated are to stipulate that pensions are collected at Social Security retirement age. No more collecting for an extra 10-15 years – its not sustainable. 3) No show workers can continue to be no-shows. They just can’t get paid for it. Where, oh, where is our AG? 4) Anybody with the words communications, deputy or assistant in the job title needs to find a job – and not a different one in government, either. Communications? What are newspapers and blogs for? 5) A real Big Audit with real consequences for other supernumeraries must be implemented. Business does this all the time; government… Read more »

Andrew
12 years ago

Telling Frank that he’s not allowed to make a legitimate point about Providence’s insatiable appetite for other communities tax revenue doesn’t really support your case that the pro-funding formula position isn’t pay up and shut up.
All of my program expenditure numbers are available from the Inforworks website. Example here.
Of all Rhode Island school districts, Providence spends one of the smallest percentages of its school budget on non-substitute teacher direct instructional costs. To say that an $800 per-pupil excess over other communities in substitute teacher pay and certain “teacher development” categories is “minutia” in a district of 25,000 students is to say that $20,000,000 in questionable spending practices in “minutia”. That’s not a sensible position to take when you’re demanding that other communities raise their taxes or cut their programs to contribute about $50,000,000 new dollars to Providence’s coffers.

Thomas Schmelng
Thomas Schmelng
12 years ago

Andrew, Of course Frank is “allowed” to say what he wants, and I’m sure he will continue to do so, but his saying that the formula “is an official property tax break for the city of Providence, nothing more”, is NOT a reasonable point; it’s a false statement, and Frank knows full well that the proposal benefits a broad group of districts that appear to include the majority of the population of the state. It benefits far more people outside of Providence than within, and less than half of the proposed increase in state funding goes to Providence. Yes, that’s a big chunk, and yes Providence gets the lion’s share (which is because Providence is big and has been among the most under-funded). Yes, I understand that, as ChuckR says, this makes a focus on Providence understandable, and I have been willing to respond to reasonable points about Providence and will continue to do so. So, I clearly didn’t say “shut up and pay up”, I said, more or less, “if you’re going to dissemble, I won’t feel compelled to address your points”. I’m sure you see the difference. Perhaps not, though, since you yourself insist on peppering your comments with phrases like “Providence’s insatiable appetite for other communities’ money”. As to your substantive points, I can’t get the link you provided to work at all, but it’s the same RIDE data I pointed to, right? I believe that’s the most current data on expenditures. Since you’ve counted from some categories and not others, instead of making me do the math, I’d be grateful if you just post the numbers that add up to $1,200. Perhaps you’re right that, given the $ amounts involved “minutia” was the wrong word. Let me try, “missing the forest for the trees”. The claim… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

ChuckR,
As I said in the previous comment, I do understand why the formula would cause people to question Providence’s finances. As I believe I’ve shown, it can withstand the scrutiny. I just object to the false statement that it’s about Providence “and nothing more”.
A couple of points:
1. Providence does have a younger population than the rest of the state, and a disproportionate number of school children.
2. State Ed funding and aid to cities and towns are separate budget items. If you think the Providence is mismanaged APART FROM the school system, I’d be happy to see you present the evidence and urge the legislature to allocate less to Providence. I do not think it is appropriate to say “we’re going to cut aid to your schools, though they are well-managed and in need, because your public works department is messed up”.
3. It seems that all of the rest of your points are about public schools generally, not about Providence in particular. They may be right and they may be wrong, but they don’t help with the funding formula discussion.
4. Please let us know what Senator Paiva-Weed has to say. I have a guess!

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Thomas
I’m puzzled about the assertion that Providence has a young population. RI has an older population overall and I did some checking on Providence. Here’s what I found:
1)Providence Schools – 26229 students – school department numbers
2)Providence population – 175000 (2006 est) but the Providenceri.com city gov’t website estimates 160000. Other estimates range to 180000. I guess it depends what you intend to do with the number as to which you select. They are rather fungible….
3) Providence persons between the ages of 5 and 18 – based on 1) and 2) above – 14.9% assuming population of 175000 or 16.3% assuming 160000
4)RI population 2006 est 1068000 Census Bureau quick facts
5) RI Persons between the ages of 5 and 18 – 16.4% Census Bureau quick facts
Does Providence have a serious truancy problem? Otherwise I’m not seeing the figures to back an assertion that Providence educates a disproportionate number of children.
On your point about the school budget being apart from the rest of nunicipalities’ budgets, you can’t subdivide the overall tax costs until you find a set where your tax effort is disproportionate, whatever that means. Have they not considered returning the tax effort to proportionality through economizing? Furthermore, if the rest of the state pays 45% +/- of the Providence local school budget, isn’t that a a substantial reduction in their tax effort? I would prefer to keep this on a year to year basis until they demonstrate that they will not fall off the wagon on spending elsewhere.

Andrew
12 years ago

1. Sorry Prof Schmeling, but you don’t get to unilaterally declare that because someone disagrees with your ideology, they are dissembling. This is you… Apart from the importance of taking variable costs-per-student, Greg is exactly right. We should go as far as possible to uncouple education funding from property taxes, especially considering that we are next-to-worst in the nation regarding our reliance on them. So tell us, under the Providence-first funding formula that you are advocating for, what community is going to be in position for the biggest property tax break? There’s nothing beyond-the-pale about Frank pointing out what the answer to this question is. 2. You keep making the highly-ideological argument that Providence is underfunded by the state, when to a first approximation, Providence gets 38 cents back for every dollar in state taxes its pays, while a community like East Greenwich back only gets about 6 cents. So without invoking any government is entitled to a certain percentage of income, no matter what services it provides or government-owns-everything assumptions, how is Providence “underfunded”? 3. I’ve made no claim that instructional support costs are unimportant. I’ve questioned why per-pupil costs in the “teacher support” category listed at Infoworks should be higher in certain communities than others, specifically choosing the category that doesn’t include social-service or paraprofessional costs that might be associated with “harder to educate” students. For example, Providence is 6th in the state in curriculum development costs. Curiculum development is a place where economies of scale absolutely apply. It does not cost any more to develop a junior high school math curricula for 100 students than for 1000. Yet we learned last week that only 174 of 501 courses taught in Providence have curriculum guides. Taking money away from direct instruction to give it to instructional support, then… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

ChuckR, I’m not quite sure what to make of the reliability of the census estimates, and the census is famous for undercounting certain populations. However, you may well be right that the proportion of school aged children in Providence is not different from the rest of the state. If I claimed otherwise, I should not have, and should have limited my statement to the percentage of public school children. Using the 2006-2007 RIDE figure for Providence, public school attendance of 26,531(which is different from your figure by only about 300) and using the RIDE figure for public school students statewide of 152,904, we find that Providence has 17.4% of the public school population. That, I believe, is larger than Providence’s share of the general population, which means that Providence has more public school children per resident than the average district. If we want to talk about what counts as “adequate funding”, I believe that number is more significant than the proportions in the general population, because it counts the actual number of children the district must educate. As to your second point, you are right to question what “disproportionate tax burden” means. “returning the tax effort to proportionality” is exactly what the funding formula is meant to do. It’s based on the premise that those cities and towns that benefit from the formula are already exerting a disproportionately high effort. I expect that justifying that means addressing Frank’s question after all. I’ll try to do that this evening if I can find time. You might find some comfort for your concerns, however, in the formula itself. It requires each district/municipality to exert a certain effort to raise school funds before state aid is allocated. That means that a district can’t say “we need more non-school aid because we are spending… Read more »

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Thomas
The range of population estimates for Providence range from 160000 to 180000 with most at 175000 (from an unscientific ramble through the web). The only, only, mention of population less than 173000 I found was at the city’s website. I find that veeery interesting – as in I don’t believe it. The difference in numbers of Providence students you mentioned and that which I found on the school department’s website is less than 1%, completely insubstantial. If you min/max and max/min these numbers, you get 16.5% and 14.6%. Providence’s share of the population, using 1067000 overall, is 16.9% to 15.0%. I’ll bet the truth is somewhere between,and ditto for the ratio of students to total city population. As I mentioned these numbers appear to be somewhat fungible. Perhaps they are like those statistics, 86.342% of which are made up on the spot.

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Andrew says, 1. you don’t get to unilaterally declare that because someone disagrees with your ideology, they are dissembling. 1. That’s no problem for me, since that’s not what I said. Frank stated that the formula was a benefit for Providence AND NOTHING MORE. That’s simply a false statement of fact, and one which I think Frank knew was not true. Once again, the formula benefits a number of urban, suburban and rural communities outside of Providence, and a majority of the new funds go to communities outside of Providence. Therefore, Frank’s claim is a false statement of fact, the evaluation of which has nothing whatsoever to do with ideology. I’ve said that several times, and I will say the same thing the next time as well. So tell us, under the Providence-first funding formula that you are advocating for, what community is going to be in position for the biggest property tax break? In total dollars, it’s Providence of course, because it’s so large. That ought to be obvious. If you mean per capita or per student, I actually haven’t done the math. I won’t be surprised if it’s still Providence, though, since the formula is based partly on tax effort, and Providence’s is currently highest in the state. I’ve been quite forthright in stating that I agree that Providence, as the largest beneficiary, should have it’s finance scrutinized. I’ve said that I’m sure that defects can be found, but I’m equally confident that those defects (except insofar as size magnifies them) are no worse than other districts. You have not yet proven the latter statement to be incorrect. There’s nothing beyond-the-pale about Frank pointing out what the answer to this question is. One more time…..That’s not what Frank said at all, he said the formula was ALL about… Read more »

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Thomas, >> Frank stated that the formula was a benefit for Providence AND NOTHING MORE. That’s simply a false statement of fact, and one which I think Frank knew was not true. Once again, the formula benefits a number of urban, suburban and rural communities outside of Providence, and a majority of the new funds go to communities outside of Providence. Therefore, Frank’s claim is a false statement of fact, the evaluation of which has nothing whatsoever to do with ideology. I’ve said that several times, and I will say the same thing the next time as well. Well maybe I wasn’t clear enough. What I meant to say is that it was the INTENT of the formula to grant an official tax break to the city of Providence. I will not deny that there may be necessary secondary effects or even the occaisional unintended effect to this formula. Do not forget that the effort to pass this formula will depend in large part on deceiving the public and on keeping it’s real intent hidden or nobody would go for it. Heck if it’s too obvious even “the people” might catch on. That’s why the proponents can’t call it the Providence Tax Subsidy Formula and instead have given it the misleading title of Fair Share Education Funding Formula. Don’t you think it’s just a little bit disingenuous on your part to keep claiming that some towns besides Providence will benefit from this formula when your reference point from which you describe their “benefit” is the current flawed, unequal method of distributing state aid back to the towns? Sure some will improve their position but let’s be honest for a moment and admit that (ignoring Central Falls for a moment) ALL of the other towns would be benefiting EVEN MORE if… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Frank, I appreciate the clarification, which I take to mean that you now accept that , not only does ALL the benefit not go to Providence, but more than half of the increases in the formula go to cities and towns outside of Providence. However, if you’re now saying that, regardless of the actual effects, the SOLE intent behind the bill is to benefit Providence, I don’t think that’s any more convincing. It requires that we believe that the Cranston and E. Providence co-sponsors, as well as the bill’s supporters in every city and town, either have a “hidden” agenda to benefit Providence alone or else are deluded. In short, you’re not only arguing about motives again, but you’re attributing some pretty bizarre ones, and dismissing everyone who disagrees with you as either liars or fools. There are simpler explanations. 

Don’t you think it’s just a little bit disingenuous on your part to keep claiming that some towns besides Providence will benefit from this formula when your reference point from which you describe their “benefit” is the current flawed, unequal method of distributing state aid back to the towns? Not at all. In fact you’ve given a perfectly accurate statement of my position, except that state aid doesn’t come from towns, it comes from people irrespective of place of residence Sure some will improve their position but let’s be honest for a moment and admit that (ignoring Central Falls for a moment) ALL of the other towns would be benefiting EVEN MORE if Providence wasn’t getting the mother load of education aid right now. Yes, that’s certainly true. In fact, every district could get more if some other district got less. I’m not sure what that has to do with the fairness of the current situation or the formula. Oh.… Read more »

chuckR
chuckR
12 years ago

Thomas –
Although I mentioned the range of estimates of Providence population as a percentage of RI population, I also made it pretty clear I didn’t believe the exceptionally low “official” estimate – said low estimate perversely doesn’t help this part of their argument. But let’s use your excess of 2100 students. That’s less than $30 million to cover them 100%. Where’s the justification for the other anticipated $210 million? Incidentally, Providence is the largest consumer of taxes; thats why its an easy target, not that we have anything special against the city – as opposed to a smoking crater like Central Falls. Part of the tax effort argument rests on property tax base and that in turn is tied directly the city management of all its other functions. Screw it up badly and do so for a long enough period of time and you will drive the overall valuation down. People like me will finally get a clue after 14 years as a resident and taxpayer and leave. The real estate will become less desirable and the market will bid it down. Then, the rest of us get to reward mismanagement and, yes, criminal behavior – because the city voters do and have rewarded them for a long time. I have no problem objecting to that. With good government, would Providence property be worth more? Would more people want to live there; would more businesses want to locate there for the real benefits a city can provide? Of course.

Frank
Frank
12 years ago

Thomas says >> However, if you’re now saying that, regardless of the actual effects, the SOLE intent behind the bill is to benefit Providence, I don’t think that’s any more convincing. It requires that we believe that the Cranston and E. Providence co-sponsors, as well as the bill’s supporters in every city and town, either have a “hidden” agenda to benefit Providence alone or else are deluded. The sponsors of the bills are from towns that will stand to benefit from the formula. Duh! Their towns are suffering under the current unfair system thanks to Providence and they can improve their lot with this formula, at the expense of some of the other towns it should be noted. Nothing is hidden. If the sponsors COULD get rid of the current system’s favoritism towards the capitol city altogether I’m sure they would. All this formula demonstrates is that some of the legislators out there don’t believe they have the ability to decrease Providence’s disproportional piece of the pie so they retooled it with a little extra in it for themselves. >> In short, you’re not only arguing about motives again, but you’re attributing some pretty bizarre ones, and dismissing everyone who disagrees with you as either liars or fools. You are the only one disagreeing. Good descriptors though. >> … except that state aid doesn’t come from towns, it comes from people irrespective of place of residence. It comes from people who live in separate, distinct towns. And since their money comes back to them disproportionately by town, their place of residence certainly does matter. >> Oh. Wait. You think the current system is flawed because Providence is already getting too much money? You are catching on. >> I know you speculated (that most households in RI do not have children… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

The sponsors of the bills are from towns that will stand to benefit from the formula. Duh! Your claim was that the real motive of even those not from Providence was to benefit Providence, rather their own communities, which I continue to find incredible. However, I’m just going to skip over this stuff about motives from now on, as it has nothing at all to do with whether the proposal is right or wrong, and leads nowhere. It has already been noted that there are 150,000 public school children in RI and there are slightly more than 400,000 households and you wouldn’t be surprised if most households don’t have children in the school system? Wouldn’t be surprised?!! What kind of math are you using? Sigh. I didn’t use any math. I hadn’t noticed that you posted the number of households, so I was just guessing (correctly, as it turns out). You said this was something I “learned”, but I had no reason to think otherwise, nor did I state otherwise. Nor can I see why it matters. The districts that will see an increase in state funding contain a majority of the state’s public school children. Those cities and towns, which will get some property tax relief from the formula, contain a majority of the state’s total population, according to the 2006 census estimates. Please note that this is not the justification for the formula; it is simply the answer to your persistant claim that it’s all about Providence. >> I did not say “suburbs are low tax”. I think you can only coin a phrase once ☺ I used the phrase “low tax suburb” (quotes in the original) to describe the destination of Andrew’s hypothetical family fleeing a hypothetical city’s “high cost government”. It did not reflect a belief… Read more »

Thomas Schmeling
Thomas Schmeling
12 years ago

Hi ChuckR, I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier, but I was not sure how to answer your question, because I couldn’t figure out where the $210M figure you mentioned comes from. If you’ll tell me that, I’ll be happy to answer as best I can. When you say that your doubts come from the fact that Providence is the largest consumer of taxes and you have no particular antipathy toward the City, I believe you, because your comments to date suggest a reasonable, if skeptical, attitude. I regret that not everyone evidences such reasonableness. I’ll also mention that I’ve argued here before that, based on the number of jobs it provides to citizens of the state, Providence is most likely a net benefit to the state financially, rather than a drain. However, as I’ve said previously in this thread, I think it’s reasonable to say that , because of it’s size, Providence, more than any city or town, needs to be able to show that it’s state aid is being well-spent. I’m satisfied that my discussion with Andrew has shown that Providence’s school budget is not out of line. I haven’t tried to speak to the city budget as a whole, but for now I’d say that a) the current administration is much more committed to fiscal responsibility and avoiding corruption than the previous one was, and b) the burden of proof is on critics to show fault. Further, even if Providence is understandably held to a high standard, every city and town receives state aid, and I think it’s wrong that some people think Providence alone is required to prove its efficiency and integrity. In particular, I am at a complete loss to understand how those purportedly interested in efficient use of tax dollars do not question Newport’s increasing… Read more »

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